Belgium has rescinded several Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions following other European countries that also dropped mandates. This move came amid dwindling COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Brussels announced on March 4 that the nation of 11 million will go from code orange to code yellow by March 7. Under the Belgian system, code orange is the second most stringent classification of measures controlling COVID-19. The loosening of restrictions followed infections in the week ending March 5 falling by 24 percent compared to the previous week. New hospitalizations and intensive care cases also saw a rapid decline.

The Belgian government announced that masks will no longer be mandatory, but will “still be recommended” in indoor settings, crowded areas and locations where physical distancing cannot be implemented. School mask mandates were also lifted March 7. However, masks are still required in healthcare facilities and public transportation. Vulnerable people are still encouraged to mask up, the government added.

Furthermore, Brussels lifted proof of vaccination mandates for the entire country. “It will no longer be necessary to use the COVID Safe Ticket in, among others, the hospitality industry and at events,” said the announcement. Prior to the lifting, the COVID Safe Ticket – the country’s version of a vaccine passport – is required before Belgians can enter bars, restaurants, theaters and cinemas. Alongside this, the Belgian government also lifted capacity limits on events.

The country also announced revised travel rules set to take effect on March 11. Travelers who present proof of vaccination, recovery from infection or a negative COVID-19 test will no longer be required to undergo mandatory testing and quarantine. However, those coming from regions with a new COVID-19 variant of concern will remain prohibited from entering.

Belgian residents who fail to present proof of vaccination, recovery from infection or a negative COVID-19 test and are traveling from “a country with an unfavorable situation” must take either an antigen or PCR test a day after they arrive, according to the March 4 announcement. 

Belgium joins the list of nations lifting COVID mandates

Belgium joined the growing list of European nations lifting COVID-19 mandates after almost two years. Its announcement came nine days after Iceland announced a similar repeal of COVID-19 restrictions.

In a Feb. 23 statement, Iceland’s Ministry of Health announced the repeal of restrictions currently in place in the Nordic nation. “Widespread societal resistance to COVID-19 is the main route out of the epidemic. To achieve this, as many people as possible need to be infected with this virus as the vaccines are not enough – even though they provide good protection against serious illness,” the statement said.

Health Minister Willum Thor Thorsson confirmed the repeal of COVID-19 mandates in a Feb. 23 cabinet meeting. He said: “We can truly rejoice at this turning point, but nonetheless – I encourage people to be careful, practice personal infection prevention measures and not to interact with others if they notice symptoms.”

The loosening of restrictions in Iceland took effect on Feb. 25. “All rules regarding limitations on social gatherings and school operations, as well as the quarantine requirement for those infected by COVID-19 are removed. Additionally, no disease prevention measures will be in place at the border, regardless of whether individuals are vaccinated or unvaccinated,” the health minister declared.

The ministry cited the recommendation of Chief Epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason for lifting all COVID-19 restrictions. In a memorandum by the health official, he argued that widespread herd immunity can lead Iceland out of the pandemic. To achieve this, the chief epidemiologist said up to 80 percent of Iceland’s population needs to be infected with SARS-CoV-2.

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